"I'm privileged, I'm honoured, and I'm very happy," Ali Saeed said, after being awarded the 2009 Human Rights Commitment Award of Manitoba.
Saeed was imprisoned after speaking out about abuse of women he witnessed while he was a refugee in Somalia.
After Amnesty International and the United Nations campaigned for his freedom, Saeed was released in 1984 and came to Canada as a refugee, where he now owns a convenience store and volunteers much of his time sponsoring refugees and working to free political prisoners in Ethiopia.
Saeed said credit for many of his successes is owed to his wife of 28 years, Ayni. "She's the pillar of our family. She is the backbone of our struggle. Without her, I would not be here. She's the one working hard...to be honest with you, the award should go straight to her."
Saeed's family has sponsored over 100 refugees, helping them find employment and schooling in Winnipeg.
Saeed's daughter Misalee, who studies international development at the University of Winnipeg, said she's extremely proud of her father, who even at home underscores the importance of human rights activism. "Because of the struggle my dad had coming to Canada, we can't take our basic human rights for granted. He instilled that into us when we grew up," she said.
Earlier this year, Saeed and his daughter presented a petition to Parliament, in an attempt to raise awareness about abuse of women in Ethiopian refugee camps, and Saeed released a documentary film on the topic.
Arthur DeFehr, the former head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, assisted with Saeed's release in 1984. "I think he's a terrific example of a successful refugee. Also, one who doesn't forget his past -- he takes other people with him. He very much deserves the honour."
Saeed's award came just a day before International Human Rights Day, marking the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- and Saeed hopes the award will serve to draw attention to the continuing struggle of refugees and political prisoners.
Meanwhile, the Sybil Shack award recipient is Anna-Celestrya Carr, for her work with the Sisters in Spirit National Campaign. The campaign works to raise awareness of the high rates of violence against Aboriginal women. Carr has taken this message to universities and institutions across the country.